A strong performance evaluation does not just happen.
Ask a Manager has a wonderful post on conducting strong performance evaluations. If you are a new manager conducting reviews for the first time or an experienced one wanting a little refresher, review this before you begin and you will be better prepared.
Preparation is a non-negotiable. When should a manager start preparing for reviews of his or her direct reports? One week before? Cold. One month before? Still cold. Mid year? Getting warmer. The day he or she closes out the past year's reviews? Hot. How about even before that? Even hotter. What if managers starting looking at performance as a continuous cycle of learning and growth and the reviews as check-ins, or course adjusters, along the way? They'd be on fire.
Preparation starts with the manager. Preparations include performance or job descriptions for staff members that compliment and support each other in accomplishing the work, performance plans that define the critical and non-critical aspects of a position, and quantifiable measures of success.
Preparation requires thought and introspection. How do you (not the manager down the hall or in the other department) differentiate between "meets" and "exceeds" ratings. How do you differentiate between fully successful and exceptional employees? Here is how the HR Capitalist does it. If you can't articulate this distinction clearly to yourself before you develop your plans, you will not be able to communicate it to your employees. This is easily one of the most difficult parts of performance management. Stay in the game (like you have a choice!) and you will see just that much more clarity, refinement and distinction (not to mention confidence) with each iteration.
The manager is clearly one part of the performance equation; the employee is the other. Two parts make a whole and each individual employee is responsible for their performance. Employees responsible for their performance would do things like:
Review the position description and performance plan for the position. Ask questions, ask questions, ask questions. Keep asking until they understand what is expected. Discuss challenges in meeting or exceeding. Suggest revisions, additions, deletions.
Ask for feedback. Be open to feedback. Listen. Ask questions.
Assess their own performance. How have they differentiated themselves from their peers? What accomplishments are they most proud of? What challenges did they face and overcome? Face and get crushed by? Face and learn from? Employees responsible for their performance will tell you.
Prepare a self assessment. Wait, did you hear that? Did you hear a voice that said, "That's a supervisor's job, he or she is supposed to know what employees do. If the manager doesn't know, the employees are not responsible for telling them." That particular voice can be a post in and of itself and to sum it up in a few words - SILENCE IT. Employees are responsible for their performance.
Preparation is key. Preparation does not ensure that all will go well. It does not guarantee that everyone will be pleased. It does not guarantee comfort. It does not mean that you, as the manager, will not wish you had said or done something differently. It means that you value your employees enough to give them the time and attention they deserve. It means that you take this stuff seriously.
The best words to live by for managers were provided very recently by Ask a Manager when she posted, "Be honest with your staff about the hard things. Even if you're uncomfortable addressing shortcomings, tell them where they can improve. Don't value your own comfort over their ability to grow and improve. . ." Read the rest of this bullet and the entire list here.
It is all about learning and growth. A strong performance evaluation does not just happen.